Tag Archives: reputation

Ben Schreiber, ActiveSense
Bug Bytes

How ERM Can Simplify Pest Management

By Benjamin Schreiber
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Ben Schreiber, ActiveSense

Whether you work in food manufacturing, distribution or retail, pests are both a fact of life as well as a regulatory disruption. At the same time, pest management solutions aren’t always clear-cut: While there are a variety of effective strategies employed by pest management professionals (PMPs) servicing the food industry, industry challenges—shifting regulatory standards, a lack of proper documentation and more—can complicate the process. For these reasons, short-term rodent problems can become long-term logistical nightmares, leaving food manufacturers in an undesirable situation when a third-party food plant auditor arrives.

Fortunately, emerging technologies in pest management practices are helping facility managers streamline their food and beverage quality assurance processes, reducing the risk of product loss, regulatory action, improper brand management and more. Specifically, electronic remote monitoring (ERM) allows PMPs to detect and monitor rodents in real time, providing you with important information to help reduce risk and increase audit compliance. As such, the value of food safety pest management strategies that incorporate ERM systems is only growing. Seeking out PMPs who use ERM allows you to invest in technologies that protect your margins, ensure the quality of your product and, ultimately, safeguard your most important asset—your reputation.

Modernizing Pest Management With ERM

At first glance, it might seem like pest management practices haven’t drastically changed since they were first implemented in the food manufacturing industry. Many rodent trapping systems remain similar to their original design: Devices designed to trap or kill that must be individually inspected and serviced by professional technicians. Technicians must then relay any risks to facility managers, who have to determine if additional resources are needed to avoid product loss or audit-based infractions.

Upon closer examination, it’s clear that while pests themselves have not significantly changed, both the pest management industry and the modern food supply chain have become increasingly complex. Food facility managers must contend with increasingly stringent food safety standards, and PMPs must rise to meet these needs with evolving pest management strategies.

In many ways, ERM technologies are the structural pest control industry’s response to these challenges, providing technicians with real-time notifications about rodent behavior and allowing them to make risk-based assessments that identify and treat problems before infestations occur. Unlike pest control strategies that rely on periodic service visits from technicians, PMPs who utilize ERM technology can monitor pest activity around the clock, 24/7/365, in virtually any environment. Instead of monitoring individual traps, PMPs can use ERM technology to know exactly when and where pest activity occurs, including in hard-to-monitor areas such as drop ceilings, crawlspaces, shelving undersides and other traditionally overlooked spaces. Technicians then receive valuable analytics from each trap they install, as well as documentation and reporting, that help managers achieve audit and regulatory compliance.

FSMA and ERM

In 2015, the FDA issued the final component of preventative control for human food under FSMA, officially enacting legislation that requires food safety plants to focus on risk-based pest prevention instead of reactive pest control strategies. As a result, quality assurance professionals and facility managers are often tasked with reallocating personnel toward proactive pest control activities in addition to their day-to-day responsibilities.

In many ways, ERM systems go hand-in-hand with FSMA and GFSI regulations. While preparing for a situation that hasn’t yet occurred can be a costly and time-consuming process, ERM has helped PMPs develop custom pest management strategies that assess and control situations in accordance with FSMA and other auditing firm guidelines. In many ways, ERM can provide all parties—PMPs, in-house auditors and third-party regulators—with a track record of pest history that all parties can cross-reference when assessing a facility.

From Risk-Averse to Risk-Based

When it comes to food safety rules and regulations, the only constant is change. In the structural pest control industry, auditors have historically implemented strict guidelines about trap placement that are frequently changing: For instance, traps should be placed every 10, 15, or 20 feet, regardless of facility susceptibility to various pest conditions. Failure to comply with regulations can result in point deductions on audits, even if the conditions that might lead to an infestation are not present. As such, food processing plants often choose to abide by the most stringent audit guidelines imposed upon them by other parties, such as retailers. By utilizing ERM technologies, food safety and quality assurance professionals can use additional pest monitoring analytics to focus on specific compliance issues, rather than spending additional time and money on other strategies.

Additionally, ERM allows PMPs to focus their efforts not only on weekly service visits and station checks, but also on important tasks, including assessing facility vulnerabilities, tracking rodent access points, and providing consultation and additional management strategies to their client—you.

Approaching the Audit with ERM

Food plant managers and retailers alike know that auditor approval is everything. Because ERM is a fast-developing technology, many quality assurance managers and facility owners are curious to know if ERM is audit approved. In truth, there are many kinds of audits, each with different goals, assessment techniques and regulatory standards. When it comes to audits, the gold standard is not necessarily the assessment of the facility and production line itself, but rather how well the assessment matches records kept by the food production plant.

To this end, ERM might be the answer to a streamlined audit process. No matter what kind of audit a plant is currently undergoing, ERM allows PMPs to provide records auditors need to verify that all systems are working properly. ERM can mean the difference between a streamlined process and a laborious audit, acting as a documentation system that helps officials conduct a PMP-verified “second-check.” This kind of verification is invaluable in an industry where there are already more than enough regulatory categories to consider without having to further worry about potential pest infestations.

ERM-Oriented Solutions

Thanks to the many advantages they offer, ERM and other remote pest monitoring technologies are growing in popularity. Many facility managers appreciate that ERM allows them to assess pest activity, prevent infestations before they occur, gather data that helps them remain industry-compliant, and acquire and share information with additional parties. If you’re a facility manager, quality assurance professional or other food safety decision-maker interested in the opportunities ERM technologies provide, consider starting the conversation about your pest prevention system with your PMP and how ERM might help improve it.

Trust, But Verify

There is an overwhelming consensus in the pest control industry that technology should be developed to provide end-users with more information. ERM systems are a natural extension of this belief, providing each component of the food production and distribution supply chain—manufacturers, distributors, retailers, quality assurance officials, technicians and others—with more data about how pest control decisions are made. Without data, it can be difficult to ensure technician service visits end in greater transparency about the issues facility owners will face as they prepare for an audit.

Fortunately, ERM can help provide the level of trust and assurance plant managers need to feel confident in their day-to-day operations. ERM is an important step forward for manufacturer-regulator relations, which require a strong combination of data, trust and transparency to ensure that communication systems don’t break down. After all, there are many industries in which miscommunication can lead to catastrophic consequences, and food production is no exception.

While each manufacturing facility, processing plant, distribution center, storage warehouse and retail outlet is different, none are insusceptible to pest infestations, and none can avoid audits required to keep them compliant. Because rigorous oversight is crucial for food producers and consumers alike, working with your PMP to develop pest monitoring strategies that utilize ERM systems and other cutting-edge technologies should be part of your larger pest control consideration process.

In the end, the pest infestation that causes the least damage to your product, profit potential and industry reputation is the infestation that never occurs.

Steve Wise, InfinityQS
FST Soapbox

How SQF Certification Can Be a Contract Manufacturer’s Greatest Advantage

By Steve Wise
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Steve Wise, InfinityQS

Well-known food and beverage brands will often turn to contract manufacturers to produce the quality products that their customers expect and enjoy. With their brand names on the line, these brand owners need assurance that their suppliers can deliver safe and high-quality goods and mitigate the looming threat of recalls.

How do they know if they’re working with a reliable contract manufacturer? Well, many will look to see if they hold certifications from a reputable third-party organization, such as the Safe Quality Food Institute (SQFI). In fact, one in four companies today require that their suppliers have SQF certification, making it one of the most important certifications in contract manufacturing.

SQF certification demonstrates that a supplier has met benchmarked standards—set by the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI)—for upholding quality and controlling food safety risks. It’s a form of validation of an organization’s ability to consistently produce safe and high-quality products. Contract manufacturers that have SQF certification are more likely to win contracts and can bid for business on a national or global scale. Thus, it presents a clear competitive advantage to those certified in the various levels of SQF certification.

Certification Tiers
SQF is a three-level certification program, with each tier progressively more rigorous than the last.

  • Level 1: The SQF Safety Fundamentals Program is an introduction to food safety standards for small- to medium-sized food suppliers. Ideal for those with low-risk food products, the program doesn’t meet GFSI standards but establishes a foundation for doing so. Suppliers certified at this level typically sell their services to smaller, local purveyors.
  • Level 2: The SQF Food Safety Program follows GFSI-benchmarked food safety standards. It helps sites implement preventive food safety measures according to Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) regulations, which ensure scientific analysis of microbiological, physical and chemical hazards are applied at each step of the supply chain. This level is ideal for businesses that would like to work with purveyors that require adherence to GFSI benchmarked standards.
  • Level 3: The SQF Food Safety and Quality Program shows an ability to not only contain safety risks through the HACCP system, but also monitor and control threats related to food quality. This highest level of certification is ideal for large-scale producers, manufacturers, food packaging facilities and distributors that have successfully deployed an SQF Food Safety Program and want to go above and beyond in their quality efforts.

While it’s the most demanding of the three, Level 3 certification is what most contract manufacturers should aspire to because it’s required by many of the world’s largest food and beverage brands. In order to attain this level of distinction, contract manufacturers need an effective way to demonstrably meet all GFSI benchmarked standards and readily access their quality data during an audit. This is where statistical process control (SPC) comes in.

The SPC Gamechanger

SPC is a proven methodology for monitoring and controlling quality during the manufacturing process. SPC enables manufacturers to chart real-time quality data against predefined control limits to identify unwanted trends and product or process variations. If there is an issue, timely alerts will notify responsible parties to take remedial action early on, preventing unsafe or poor-quality goods from entering the supply chain and triggering a recall. This establishes strong controls for food quality and safety in accordance with a Level 3 SQF Program. Audits also become a breeze, as all historical data are stored digitally in a centralized repository. Suppliers can thereby quickly and easily produce auditor-requested reports showing compliance with SQF requirements and GFSI standards.

Statistical process control, InfinityQS
Statistical process control (SPC) is a method for monitoring and controlling quality during the manufacturing process. Image courtesy of InfinityQS

But beyond quality monitoring and facilitating audits, SPC can deliver greater impact by providing suppliers with analytical tools useful for mining historical data for actionable insights. They can run comparative analyses of the performance of different lines, products, processes, or even sites, revealing where and how to further reduce risk, improve consistency, streamline operations, and lower production costs. In this way, SPC lends itself to a profit-positive business model—driving additional savings through process improvement while increasing new business opportunities through contracts won via SQF certification.

A Snacking Success

One contract manufacturer of savory and healthy snacks previously struggled with large variations in product quality. These inconsistencies often resulted in quality holds or process aborts that generated high waste and costs. By implementing SPC, the snack supplier was able to take advantage of a wide range of data—including incoming receiving tracking and quality inspection tracking—to finetune its production processes with effective controls for food quality and safety. In addition to a 30% reduction in customer complaints, SPC has helped the supplier realize a $1 million reduction in product waste and attain Level 3 SQF certification, the latter of which has generated continued new business from several well-known snack food brands.

This snack supplier is a clear example of SQF certification as a competitive differentiator. Working with such SQF-certified and SPC-powered contractors is important to food and beverage brands because they can protect their reputations and ensure continued customer retention by way of safe, consistent, high-quality products. Ultimately, it builds greater trust and integrity in the supply chain among companies and consumers alike.

Craig Powell, Natura Life ≠ Science
FST Soapbox

Standardization of the Cannabis Supply Chain Drives Product Safety and Consumer Trust

By Craig Powell
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Craig Powell, Natura Life ≠ Science

When it comes to mainstream consumer food brands, customers expect to receive the same product each time they buy it. That consistency brings consumers back to the same brands over and over again. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about products sold in the cannabis industry. Consumers aren’t building long-term relationships with brands because consumers don’t have consistent product experiences and often take their business to other brands.

This inconsistency plaguing the cannabis industry can be attributed to an unreliable supply chain, which plays out in multiple ways.

First, cannabis companies are having difficulty meeting state regulations. This happens because the legal cannabis industry is still relatively young and there isn’t a substantial institutional knowledge about regulatory compliance, nor are there any standardized best practices in place. Regulation is expensive and requires human and financial capital that most cannabis companies don’t have in place. Complicating things further, regulations keep changing, making it more difficult for compliant businesses to keep up, even when they have the best intentions.

Second, testing of cannabis products has been complicated. Because cannabis isn’t federally legal, standardized testing guidelines have not been developed, leaving individual states in charge of dictating their own requirements and enforcement framework. There have been numerous reports in the past few years of labs in California either improperly reporting testing results, or worse, submitting fraudulent results.

Third, problems also arise on production end of the supply chain—not only with consistency, but also with consumer safety. According to an estimate from New Frontier Data, approximately 80% of sales are still conducted through the black market. Many growers are using banned pesticides in amounts way beyond recommended levels. In addition, as the recent vape issue has demonstrated, black market manufactured products are being adulterated with toxic substances that pose significant health hazards to consumers.

Given these consistency challenges, the standardization of the supply chain—especially compliance, testing and safety measures—should be a top priority for new cannabis brands. Luckily, many best practices and standardized procedures can be adopted from the food, agriculture and pharmaceutical industries, where companies have successfully developed protocols to ensure safe and reliable products.

In addition to standardization and best practices, cannabis companies should also utilize the following recent innovations in transaction technology to provide peace-of-mind to both new brands and consumers that cannabis products are tested and safe.

Modernized Retail POS systems. Common in other consumer packaged goods industries, such as food, wine, beverages and soft drinks, RFID tags can be used throughout the supply chain to track products from seed to sale. These tags, like the “chips” on credit cards, hold electronically stored information about a product that can be accessed to verify compliance and safety.

QR Codes. While QR codes are mostly used today as marketing gimmicks, they actually have potential to provide true value for curious customers. Batch-specific QR codes could be applied to cannabis products to show detailed information about when and where it was made, what strains of cannabis were used, and testing results. This technology could be used to increase transparency between companies and to consumers.

Data Informatics. A strong information technology infrastructure can be put in place to collect and store inventory and customer data. That data can then be run through algorithms, AI and machine learning systems to help cannabis brands make better decisions about how to optimize the production of their products and how to achieve better results on future batches.

Video Surveillance. Granted, this is a more ‘low-tech’ approach, but effective, nonetheless. Video cameras can go way beyond security purposes. Footage can be viewed and compared to collected data sets to gain a deeper understanding of product flows, personnel movement and logistics that might impact a company’s final product. Video can also be analyzed automatically using AI to provide important insight to help a company fine tune their business strategies.

Consumers want to know that the cannabis products they purchase are safe, compliant and tested. Consumers also have a right to know what they are buying and expect product consistency over time from companies they trust. Ensuring supply chain consistency is key to making this happen as the industry matures. An experienced and trusted supply chain partner can help companies across different cannabis sectors, ranging from medical to food, and ensure product safety and consumer trust today through standardization and consistency. Ultimately, cannabis businesses want to cultivate a culture of excitement, not fear or uncertainty, to help the market flourish and bring quality products to our customers.

Gisli Herjolfsson, Controlant
FST Soapbox

How Supply Chain Digitalization and Data Helps Prevent Costly Recalls

By Gisli Herjolfsson
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Gisli Herjolfsson, Controlant

Recalls are something that food brands plan for but hope to never experience. They are an important public safety issue, but they also have a significant economic impact as well. At best, a product recall is a benign mistake that causes little more than aggravation and inconvenience for a few angry customers. At worst, the consequences can be tragic, both in terms of human and financial impact.

Industry research conducted by the Food Marketing Institute and Grocery Manufacturers Association places the average cost of a single recall at $10 million. That calculation includes only the direct costs of a recall. For the full, long-term costs, including direct and indirect liabilities, you’d need to further account for the immediate loss in sales, litigation costs, as well as any long-term damage caused from a loss in consumer confidence in your brand.

Consumers’ relationship with food is ever changing. They demand transparency about its contents, origin and safety, and for good reason. The World Health Organization estimates that nearly 1 in 10 people are sickened yearly from eating contaminated food, leading to 420,000 deaths. Consumers have long memories for businesses that poison them. The larger the size of your company and the more attention it receives, the potentially greater impact on your long-term business prospects. With the recent E. coli outbreaks tied to romaine lettuce, food safety is top of mind for consumers, and it is impacting entire market segments.

One of the easiest ways to prevent recalls associated with perishable foods is to ensure that food and beverage products are safely produced and continually kept at the right temperatures. Sounds easy, right? In reality, it is far from it.
Gaining end-to-end supply chain visibility can help you prevent costly recalls altogether. Data that today’s technology provides will be important for mitigating risk and protecting a brand’s reputation.

Get Proactive

The idea of prevention is paramount to FSMA. It’s clear that the FDA expects that once a producer or supplier discovers that something has gone wrong, they go back and figure out exactly what happened so that they can put measures in place to prevent it from happening again.

While current FDA guidelines and various EU safety regulations generally require that food can be tracked one step up and one step down the supply chain, this remains a very siloed approach to traceability and is open to risks—risks that producers, food retailers and restaurant brands cannot afford to take.

For USDA-regulated products, HACCP employs a similar process. Prevention is key, and if your monitoring measures miss an issue that could compromise food safety, you’ll need to go back and determine the root cause of the problem.
A cold food manufacturer can do a lot to control risks under its own roof, but how do you avoid costly recalls with ingredients or with temperature abuse after a product leaves the facility? Regulations or not, knowing where your ingredients and food products come from and being assured of their safety is critical in protecting your brand and company from the financial and reputational damage caused by a food recall.

Looking forward in the supply chain, maintaining the cold chain is necessary for many products, including fresh produce, frozen and deep frozen foods, and also those that must be kept at room temperature but still require temperature control. Even if you and your suppliers are incredibly careful and practice prudent safety measures, you may not have full visibility over who else is handling your products. If temperature mishandling by someone else necessitates a food recall or results in a food safety incident, it is still associated with your brand, even if you weren’t the direct culprit.

For many food retailer and restaurant chains, it is common practice for them to share their internal food safety guidelines with their suppliers and partners, and require that they prove a product’s source of origin, lifespan, how those products are stored and transported from point A to point B, as well as the environmental conditions in which foods are kept. Allowing suppliers and logistics partners to self-manage their supply chain does nothing to proactively ensure that they and a food brand aren’t in the headlines due to a food safety incident.

Digitally Connect the Supply Chain

This is where technology and data can play a critical role in managing your temperature-controlled food and beverage products. More and more food enterprises are utilizing Internet of Things (IoT) technologies that talk to the internet so they can collect supply chain data into dashboards and access it on demand.

IoT can be considered as a central nervous system for the supply chain. Through IoT, you can track shipments or trace temperature, moisture or other factors that can have an impact on food quality. Not only can you discover problems more rapidly with this technology, you can narrow the scope of recall. For businesses transporting temperature-sensitive products, this means they can manage product movement data in real-time and respond to issues before they lead to a food safety incident or product waste.

From a food production standpoint, IoT solutions can substantially reduce recalls from issues like labeling, processing and contamination. One of the primary causes of a food recall is microbiological in nature, with the majority of cases involving fruits and produce. IoT data can help detect issues further upstream in the supply chain and, since products will change hands several times before they reach a consumer, it can give you a complete picture of the product’s lifecycle—something that cannot be done with clipboards and ad hoc or periodic inspections.

Through cloud technology, food businesses can connect their end-to-end supply chain, analyze data, discover trends, illuminate weak points and directly respond to them to improve their overall processes.

Track and Trace Everything

Continuous and consistent tracking and tracing through technology not only simplifies recalls, it helps prevent them altogether. The only thing worse than being faced with a food recall is not knowing which products are affected or where exactly they are located.

Real-time temperature monitoring and product movement traceability technology can give you the confidence that foods are continuously kept at their required temperatures and remain safe for consumption. When you need to track and trace an ingredient or product, time is often of the essence. Delays may mean more resources and efforts are spent in producing something that may be rejected, or worse, recalled, or that the potentially impacted product isn’t isolated in time.

The digital integration of suppliers and other partners is vital if a food enterprise wants to have more control over its cold chain. Consumer demand for social responsibility and ethical business operations means that businesses need to provide greater visibility and transparency into the origins of their products. With today’s supply chains, having data—essentially, a horizontal IT layer that lets people share and access data—removes the barriers of communication among stakeholders.
IoT serves as a tool to remove the barriers to collaboration between food manufacturers, food logistics businesses, restaurant and food retail chains, regulatory agencies, and the end consumer. It increases the transparency of information and helps to deliver better products throughout the food supply chain.

Get Started

Acknowledging that most food companies have limited resources, food brands can still face their efforts only on the suppliers and customers that are of the greatest concern. Often this means looking at the combination of “high-risk product” with “high-risk supplier/partner” and prioritizing that part of the supply chain. This prioritization will help food brands allocate their resources and focus their time and money on the highest risks to their customers and brand. Once they’re able to reap the benefits of a preventive food safety program, they’re better able to justify allocating additional resources to other parts of the cold chain.

While IoT, cloud monitoring and traceability technology has been around for some time, real-time data is now becoming standard. Traditionally, the cost of IoT technology and data infrastructure could be quite expensive. However, different business models like subscription are on the rise, which lower the cost of entry for new prospects and can connect a broader range of products, not only high-value goods.

Although many food brands already have some proactive food safety programs in place, it only takes one incident to lead to a major food recall—even if it isn’t your company’s product—and it can negatively impact your business.
As an industry, food brands need to continue raising the bar in terms of what is considered standard and “best practice” when building an effective, proactive food safety strategy. Utilizing best-in-class technology can ensure the delivery of safe foods to the market, prevent recalls, protect business interests, and most importantly, protect consumers.

Courtney Bosch-Tanguy
Retail Food Safety Forum

Three Reasons your Restaurant Needs to Take Food Safety Seriously

By Courtney Bosch-Tanguy
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Courtney Bosch-Tanguy

Food that is not only fresh and delicious but is also safe to eat is a must for any restaurant. Foodborne illnesses are a real threat to consumers and can permanently mar the reputation of the chain or restaurant who spreads them. If you’re at risk for serving up a chicken breast with a side of Salmonella or a burger crawling with E. coli, it is just a matter of time before someone gets sick. According to the CDC, about one in six Americans will get sick from a foodborne illness each year; more than 125,000 people per year become ill enough to be hospitalized.

Beyond the moral obligation to serve up quality food and to make sure your customers don’t get sick, attention to food safety can also prevent a public relations nightmare for your brand. The very mention of foodborne illness triggers a connection with Chipotle, even though many of the brand’s news-making outbreaks were over three years ago. Keeping customers, your business, and your reputation safe are just three reasons to incorporate food safety best practices into your daily routine.

Promote Customer Safety

You’re in business to serve your community or a specific population, so it is in your and their best interests to ensure the food you are serving up is not only tasty, but safe as well. Proper attention to everything from handwashing, to choosing the right cutting surfaces, to serving and storing food at the proper temperature, and properly labeling prepared foods and ingredients ensures you’re not harming the very customers you are trying to serve.

When you can be confident that your sanitation, storage and labeling process are the best they can be, you can serve every customer with pride, knowing you’ve provided them with the best possible meal or item. Your customers will know they can patronize your establishment with confidence that you take their safety seriously and are consistently dedicated to quality.

Protect Your Reputation

Chipotle, Taco Bell, and other brands found out the hard way: News spreads fast. In this era of smart phones and instant communication, that hair attached to your pasta is horrifying for more than just the patron who ordered it. With social media at the ready, one mistake could be broadcast to an audience of thousands in just seconds.

In 2015, Chipotle made headlines, for all the wrong reasons. The brand had outbreaks in multiple locations, spanning 11 states. Even after a public and thorough store sanitation and cleansing, consumers and media still question the level of food safety in the brand’s locations and how these outbreaks were handled by the company. Chipotle had a more recent incident this summer. The chain committed to retraining all of its restaurant workers nationwide on food safety after nearly 650 customers became ill from eating at one of its Ohio restaurants. Tests showed sickened customers had Clostridium perfringens, which is a foodborne disease that occurs when food is left at an unsafe temperature.

Taco Bell has been under investigation for foodborne illness multiple times in the past few decades, dating back to 1995. From Salmonella to E.coli, the brand continues to struggle with food safety, making it a frequent target of both the news media and comedians cracking jokes at the brand’s expense.

Protect Your Business

Chipotle suffered in more ways than one during that series of publicized outbreaks. The company’s stocks and profits plummeted, even after the outbreak appeared to be over. Jack in the Box never fully recovered after a tragic case of E. coli outbreak that resulted in the deaths of four children almost two decades ago.

Consumers have long memories, and there is no such thing as an isolated incident anymore. Focusing on food safety in this digital, social-media-powered era is more important than ever before. Simple steps, from properly training your employees about food safety, to implementing the right tools and technology to manage a food safety program, to properly labeling and testing food before you serve it, can help your brand maintain its sterling reputation and keep your customers safe.

Every step you take towards implementing proper food safety protocol is a step in the right direction for your customers, your business, and your reputation.

Francine Shaw, Savvy Food Safety, Inc.
FST Soapbox

Would Your Team Know How to Handle a Crisis?

By Francine L. Shaw
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Francine Shaw, Savvy Food Safety, Inc.

In 1993, Jack in the Box put foodborne illnesses and food safety “on the map” when their undercooked burgers led to an E. coli outbreak that infected more than 700 people. 171 people were hospitalized and four children died.

Don’t miss the Plenary Discussion on Crisis Management at the 2018 Food Safety Consortium | Learn moreUnfortunately, this infamous outbreak wasn’t an isolated incident. Foodborne illness outbreaks are on the rise in the United States. The CDC reports that 48 million Americans become sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die from foodborne diseases each year in the United States.

A string of unprecedented outbreaks at Chipotle occurred at multiple locations, beginning in 2015. Recently, there was widespread concern when romaine lettuce tainted with E. coli was shipped, served and sold at restaurants, stores and institutions nationwide. Earlier this year, approximately 2,000 7-Eleven customers at a Utah location were exposed to hepatitis A due to an infected employee who worked (and handled the convenience store’s food) while sick. The state’s local health department announced that anyone who used the restrooms, drank a fountain drink, ate fresh fruit or any item from the store’s hot food case was at risk for infection from the highly contagious illness.

Keep in mind that a crisis isn’t necessarily a foodborne illness. Think about other unexpected crises that could impact your organization, staff and customers, like natural disasters (hurricanes, blizzards, tornados, etc.) What if there’s a robbery, shooting or bombing at your venue? What if a guest chokes and dies? Perhaps there’s an unexpected power outage or a fire? Yes, unfortunately, these are all real possibilities.

If a crisis were to occur at your establishment, would your team know what to do?

As the saying goes, if you fail to prepare, prepare to fail. It’s extremely important to be prepared for every type of crisis imaginable—before anything bad actually happens.

When developing a crisis plan, consider and implement the following:

  • Form a crisis management team. Assign roles and responsibilities. Ensure all designated crisis team members understand what’s expected of them in the event of a crisis. For most food businesses, the crisis team will consist of a corporate attorney, company leadership, food safety team, crisis management consultant, a public relations expert, a trained media spokesperson and applicable government agencies.
  • Know how your local health department operates. The role of the local health department varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, so get to know your local inspectors. Work with your regulatory agencies, who will want to help.
  • Create honest, authentic and apologetic messaging. This will, of course, need to be developed to meet the specifics of your situation. Regardless of what happened, honestly describe the situation and explain the solutions-focused plan you’ve created to move forward. Transparency is important, otherwise key audiences (customers, employees, media, investors, advertisers, etc.) will lose confidence and trust in your company.
  • Work with the media to disseminate information about the incident. The media want to report what has happened, and it’s in your best interest to be straightforward with them. If there was a breakdown in your process, identify it, whether you received tainted merchandise from a vendor or experienced an error in the kitchen. Explain the concrete steps you’re taking to fix it and prevent a reoccurrence (e.g., selecting different vendors, re-training your staff, adjusting your food allergy protocols, etc.).
  • Train (or re-train) your staff on food safety protocols. Be certain that everyone is knowledgeable about food safety (e.g., how to prevent cross-contamination, how to properly prepare allergy-friendly meals, how to cook foods to proper temperatures, etc.) to avoid similar crisis situations in the future.
  • Use social media wisely. Monitor social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) and respond to negative and/or erroneous comments. Messages on social media (as well as in real life) should always be positive, professional and honest. Don’t get defensive and don’t allow yourself to get sucked into toxic, negative message spirals.
  • Communicate with your customers, employees and other key stakeholders to win back their trust. Be honest, sincere and apologetic. Explain how/why their loyalty is so important to you, and vow to earn their trust again.
  • Change vendors, if necessary. Did a vendor mislabel ingredients, causing an allergic reaction in one of your guests? Did they source tainted products and sell them to you? Change vendors, and be clear in your communications (to media, via social media platforms, etc.) that you identified the vendor as the source of the problem, explaining that you’ve cut ties to them to eliminate similar events in the future.
  • Thank the responders that helped. Perhaps your crisis wasn’t a foodborne illness –it was a customer dying of natural causes, a bomb threat, a weather emergency, or an electrical fire. Use the media and social media platforms to thank the police, fire department and/or paramedics—whichever responders helped defuse the situation.
  • Designate a media spokesperson. When facing a serious crisis, your restaurant’s CEO/owner/president should be the spokesperson. The public wants the head of the company to speak authoritatively about the incident and the concrete plans to resolve the problem. Practice your messages before going in front of the cameras, anticipate the most challenging questions you may receive, and determine how you’ll respond professionally, politely and non-defensively.
  • Stay calm. While it’s upsetting (and terrifying!) to be in a crisis situation, remain calm as you work to recover from the incident. Follow your crisis plan and communicate your key messages. Make certain that important audiences (including customers, prospects, employees, the media, vendors, health inspectors, etc.) recognize how hard you’re working to prevent similar incidents in the future.
  • Debrief after the crisis is over. Regardless of what happened and the severity of the situation, after any kind of incident, get the crisis management team together and debrief. Review your plan and see if there is any room for improvement.

It is critical to have a plan established just in case a crisis occurs. Hopefully, you’ll never have to use it, but it’s always wise to be prepared. A crisis can hit any business at any time—how well you handle the situation could make a monumental difference in the court of public opinion.

Janice Buchanon, Steritech
FST Soapbox

Is Food Safety Part of Your Crisis Management Plan?

By Janice Buchanon
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Janice Buchanon, Steritech

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, it’s been hard to miss the food safety-related headlines of the past month: E. coli in romaine lettuce, Salmonella-tainted eggs, norovirus-infected oysters sickening hundreds, and hepatitis A crises across several states, to name just a few. Since 1993 when an E. coli outbreak linked to ground beef at a fast food chain resulted in the deaths of several children, food safety has been on the radar of most major foodservice groups. Yet, surprisingly, food safety often doesn’t have its own crisis management plan within organizations.

At the 2018 Food Safety Consortium, don’t miss the Plenary Panel Discussion: Crisis Management: Don’t let that crisis sink your business!A Single Food Safety Crisis Can Ripple Across Your Operation

A food safety crisis can have tremendous impacts on an organization, leading to lost sales, negative media and social media publicity, unsavory online reviews, temporary restaurant closure, lost wages for your staff, increased scrutiny on other locations, lawsuits and more.

In a 2016 survey of more than 500 consumers, it was revealed that food safety incidents stick with consumers—and that can impact your reputation and your bottom line for much longer than you may realize.

  • Of the respondents, 62.5% said they were aware of a food safety incident at a restaurant in the last six months.
  • A foodborne illness outbreak isolated to a single location of a chain restaurant would prevent many of the survey respondents from dining at other locations in the chain; 34.1% of respondents said that if they knew about an outbreak at a single location, they’d avoid eating at other restaurants in the chain for more than six months. Worse, 17% said they’d never eat at the chain again.
  • If a foodborne illness outbreak is linked to multiple locations of a restaurant, consumers get even tougher. A whopping 37.5% would avoid eating at the entire chain for more than six months. There’s more disturbing news: 31.7% of the respondents said they’d never eat at that chain again.

Food safety incidents don’t have to be large scale to be significant and get into the consumer eye. They happen every day, in small scale, for many foodservice operations. Think about how the following incidents could impact food safety in your organization:

  • A power outage knocks out refrigeration for a single location for 12 hours
  • A boil water advisory is issued for a large city
  • A fire extinguisher is discharged in a kitchen to put out a small fire
  • A hurricane brings widespread flooding to a metropolitan area
  • A child whose parent asks about peanut allergies is served a food containing peanuts
  • A child becomes ill in a restaurant and vomits
  • A kitchen employee is diagnosed with hepatitis A and continues to work without disclosing the illness
  • A location is closed by the health department for a pest infestation
  • Several locations were supplied with a food item involved in a major recall for contamination

Each of these incidents is related to food safety. Would your employees, from the top down, know what actions to take in each specific situation? Most senior or executive-level C-suite personnel might know what to do, but that type of training often never makes it down to the operator level. When an incident does happen, it leaves location level management and employees scrambling to figure out what to do; often, the steps they take are incorrect, and can even exacerbate the situation.

What’s Trending in Food Safety Incidents
Over the last 24 months, we’ve helped many major brands in resolving crisis situations. The top five types of crisis incidents we’ve assisted with include:
– Potential Hepatitis A exposure
– Potential Norovirus outbreaks/exposure
– Health department closure
– Power outages
– Boil water advisory

Just as organizations prepare for other crises—fire drills, food shortages, staffing problems, active shooters—having crisis plans for food safety incidents can help an organization’s players know what to do when a food safety incident occurs. This goes beyond risk mitigation to actually knowing what steps to take when specific types of crisis happen. Proper planning for crisis management includes:

  • Identifying the most likely crisis situations and developing a plan of action for each of them.
  • Identifying who all the key players are going to be in the management of the crises, from C-suite to public relations to individual location responsibilities, and communicating that to all team members
  • Outlining all the steps to be taken in a crisis
  • Building familiarity with a defined plan for operators of an individual location
  • Presenting an opportunity to practice the plan before a crisis occurs (training)
  • Crisis management doesn’t end with the crisis; following any crisis, key stakeholders should review the crisis management plan for that incident to determine if updates or changes are needed

What to Look for in a Crisis Management Partner

Crisis management isn’t something to go alone if you don’t have internal expertise on your team. Crisis management goes beyond public relations—it should include training and step-by-step processes for each specific type of crisis. So what should you look for in a food safety crisis management partner?

  • A partner who has food safety knowledge and practical experience in dealing with crisis
  • A partner who has familiarity with the different types of crises you outline as critical for your organization
  • A partner who engages team members and can help you conduct training from the top down

Why Now?

Crisis management should be part of every organization’s plan already, but if it’s not, there are some key reasons to act now. A number of current events are having a substantial impact on the foodservice community, increasing the need for food safety crisis management plans.

  • Hepatitis A outbreaks. States including California, Michigan, Kentucky and Indiana have had a significant increase in the number of hepatitis A cases reported. While this problem doesn’t start in the foodservice community, it does impact it—because as communities see higher cases, the chances of a food handler coming into contact with an ill person and contracting hepatitis A increase. Hepatitis A can be easily spread through food, so it’s critical that foodservice operations have a crisis management plan to deal with exposure incidents.
  • Norovirus. Norovirus-related outbreaks and foodservice operation closures—and the media exposure that goes along with them—have been on the rise for the last several years. Norovirus can create problems for operations in a number of ways, from employees working while sick, to customers getting sick in the establishment, to foods being contaminated with norovirus. Knowing how to respond to norovirus incidents is critically important, as norovirus outbreaks can lead to location closures, costly disinfection costs, unwanted publicity, lawsuits, and more.
  • Increasing turnover. With unemployment rates at record lows, foodservice operations are facing an employment crisis, unable to hire enough workers. This can increase the opportunity for food safety incidents as routine tasks and processes may be “short cut” during an employment shortage.
  • Delivery. The skyrocketing demand for delivery has led chains to quickly put together delivery plans. Crisis management should be addressed as part of any delivery plan, as there are any number of variables which could lead to potential incidents in delivery.

Don’t wait until a food safety incident occurs to figure out your crisis management plan. Start work today to ensure that when a food safety crisis occurs, your team and your brand can weather the storm.

Randy Fields, Repositrak
FST Soapbox

How to Button Up Your Supply Chain

By Randy Fields
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Randy Fields, Repositrak

Donald Bowersox, a long-time business professor at Michigan State University and one of the progenitors of modern supply chain management, once said, “The job of supply chain is clearly a senior management challenge, and it’s one that sits right alongside the other C-level jobs in the corporation. We may call it something different going forward, but basically it will remain the stewardship of moving products from the material origin points all the way through the process of conversion to the end consumers efficiently, effectively, and relevantly. That challenge is a big one and will continue to be for a long time. So I don’t see a next organizational evolution. Instead, I see the supply chain manager becoming more deeply involved in the corporate strategic initiatives and being part of the C-team management.”

Applying this approach to food safety in the supply chain has become more critical during the last few years as a result of regulatory, market and consumer pressures. At the start of this century, only 15 years ago, the food safety director rarely, if ever, interacted with the CEO. Many retailers didn’t even have such a position, or it was combined with quality control or loss prevention.

Now, not only does the top food safety manager have the ear of the CEO, he or she is engaged with all senior executives. Part of this is the result of the Food Safety Modernization Act, which holds those officers personally liable for a wide variety of preventable incidents. Likely bigger causes for the shift are the changing market and the changing consumer, which both relate directly to the company’s brand reputation. And in the food business, everything starts and stops with the supply chain.

Why? Because the supply chain is ground zero for the failures that are responsible for causing food safety problems. And the supply chain is where food safety problems are prevented. It is the choke point or series of choke points that allow or prevent spoiled and tainted product from getting to the consumer. It is also the process by which that unsaleable product is reclaimed so as to ensure it never enters the marketplace.

It is critical for the food safety manager to work closely with the merchandisers and the store operations teams, as they have the relationships with suppliers and work to ensure that standards for everything from ingredients to production are met with every shipment. But it’s even more critical for those professionals to work closely with the supply chain team to determine weak links in the system and address those pressure points before they cause real damage. Without food safety-supply chain collaboration, the risks to a company’s reputation multiply. With it, the likelihood of a food safety incident reaching consumers diminishes tremendously.

It’s becoming clearer every day—if you don’t button up your supply chain, somebody else, namely the government or the consumer, will and the results won’t be pleasant.